How to Live a Mythic Life
Joseph Campbell, author, teacher, and mythologist, might best be known for explaining the hero’s journey in his celebrated book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s a journey we all must take. It’s not an easy path, and the goal isn’t a pot of gold at the end (or a sexy spouse, sports car, house, etc.). The goal is self-actualization. And it’s not a selfish pursuit, because the wisdom you acquire is shared with others to make your community and the world a better place.
It starts in the ordinary world. Here, everything is “normal.” Or at least, normal to you. You might feel that something is off, or as if you were meant for more, but you don’t really know what. You might even brush this hunch aside, believing that life is “good enough.”
I walked through the halls of my corporate office space, holding my laptop, notebook, and a large thermos of tea. A coworker asked, “Hey Lisa, how’s it going?” When someone asked this semi-rhetorical question, the common refrain was to respond with an eye roll and an exasperated sigh, muttering, “just living the dream.” And so, as if on queue, that’s what I said. However, I felt a slight pain in my heart as I repeated this response for the umpteenth time. Because if I wasn’t living the dream now, would I ever?
At the time, my marriage was even worse off than my career. My husband and I could barely tolerate being in the same room. He hadn’t worked for years, so as the sole income provider, I felt trapped in my job. “At least I have two beautiful children,” I kept telling myself.
“How many people are psyched about their marriage?” I silently wondered. I tried to console myself by imagining others weren’t any better off than me, and that these feelings of discontent and ennui were just part of midlife. In fact, others did seem to feel the same. My friends and I would even laugh with resignation over a couple of glasses of wine. Drinking, of course, was our reward for a less than inspiring life.
You continue to plug away in the ordinary world, resigned to your life as you know it. But then there is a calling — something that jolts you out of your sleepwalk-like trance. This is your call to adventure.
The lack of enthusiasm I felt for my job and marriage left me feeling a bit dead inside. Nevertheless, I continued along the cow path set before me, not bothering to find a more efficient route.
I want to say the call that woke me up was to join the Peace Corps and help children from developing countries. Alas, it was not. The call came as a man — one whom I wanted to be with romantically.
It was like a switch flipped. Suddenly, I was awake. I had the energy I needed to leave my troubled marriage. The desire to be with someone else gave me the motivation to act. Ideally, I would have acted independently, without an external catalyst. Still, I needed this “call to adventure” to encourage me to leave my ordinary world.
Once you heed the call to adventure, that’s when life starts to get interesting. There will be multiple tests to determine the strength of your resolve. You’ll meet allies and mentors that will help you on your journey. But there will also be enemies who want to prevent you from moving forward. Sometimes these enemies are internal. They’re the small voice inside you telling you to “go back” or “you’re not ready yet.” Other times, they’re external, and these people will do anything to prevent change or disruption. Often they’re not enemies in the traditional sense — they just want to see you safe. But safety isn’t the goal.
My first test came as soon as my husband and I separated. It seemed like almost immediately, the man who incited my call to adventure abruptly got back together with his ex-girlfriend. I was devastated. “This isn’t supposed to happen!” I shook my fist to the heavens. A happy relationship was supposed to be my reward for finally leaving a troubled marriage. Now, I was all alone. I had to answer the question: “Did I really want to be alone?”
Even though I was devastated by the short and doomed love affair, I was grateful that it provided me with the impetus to end my marriage. Of course, I still had to go through the laborious and soul-sucking process of divorce. Negotiating assets and childcare with a man with whom I found it difficult to negotiate household decisions, like making dinner and taking out the trash, was not going to be easy.
Yet, I felt a sense of freedom even despite the self-interested lawyers and baffling legal bills. Now that I was alone, I had the opportunity to rebuild my life more authentically. I was no longer looking for reasons to be out of the house. I could stay home and enjoy my children without feeling like I had to walk on eggshells to keep the peace. The kids and I spent that whole year dancing in the kitchen while singing along to Hamilton. My spirit had been freed.
Sometimes there is an ordeal or an epic fight with the dragon on this hero’s journey. But more often, there is a series of ordeals and battles that you’ll need to overcome with tools that only you possess, like wisdom, courage, strength, and discernment.
Of course, my road forward wasn’t always an easy one. The separation and divorce was a clearing of sorts (or more like a demolition), but I still needed to rebuild my life. For me, there were multiple ordeals and dragons to conquer.
First, I began dating a remarkably similar man to my ex-husband, and not in good ways. “How did I get here again?” I asked myself. This realization forced me to look at my relationship patterns and limiting beliefs that were causing me to attract the same type of men in my life. I sought an ally — my therapist. She helped me recognize my tendencies and heal my inner child.
Despite my attempt to help my father out of his financial hardships (even when I had ones of my own), my father sued me. This has resulted in an emotionally and financially taxing lawsuit and the destruction of our already fragile relationship. I was forced to learn how to confront and manage conflict (things I have traditionally shied away from).
A rare tumor was detected in my breast. I went through genetic testing and two operations. Luckily, the tumor was benign and the genetic testing was negative, but I discovered that I was at higher risk for breast cancer. I needed to increase diagnostic testing and decide whether I should take the preventive medication with a host of undesirable side effects. Though I remain healthy, the uncertainty guides me to consider what I value most.
You might have been brought up to believe that your hard work results in treasures like a beautiful house, perfect partner, or the top position at a prestigious firm. It might, but those treasures are transient. The real treasure on this journey is your confidence and self-actualization.
Now that I had seized freedom and autonomy, I started to rediscover my passions. This is not something I was encouraged to do in my marriage. I began to deepen my spiritual practice by regularly attending my sangha (Buddhist study group). I got certified to teach yoga and delved deeper into Ayurveda, eventually becoming an Ayurvedic wellness coach. The kids and I started to prioritize travel. I began to remember all the things that lit me up.
With this newfound confidence, I started to direct my attention to my career. I was tired of replying, “Just living the dream,” when someone asked how I was doing. I really wanted to live my dream. I started to plan my departure. The people closest to me thought I was crazy. “Why would you leave your job?” “You have the best job ever!” they exclaimed — almost in a panic. It was true that I worked with great people and made good money, but my work no longer inspired me. I left the safety of my job to pursue my passions.
My treasure came as sovereignty. I felt in control of my life and confident I could handle anything that came my way. I was not a supporting character who had no say in the script in which I’d been cast. I was the heroine. I wrote the script.
You make your way back from your journey resurrected. You are more confident, more at ease with yourself, and you have a new understanding of how the world works and how you can contribute to it. You are closer to self-actualization. It is not the end of the journey, and there will be more, but it is the beginning of seeing the world from a new height.
Now, my days are filled with inspiration as I write (my first book will be published in April) and teach women how to take charge of their well-being through myth, Ayurveda, and ancient and modern practices. I work nonstop, but it’s no longer work in the traditional sense — it’s my life’s work.
At the beginning of this journey, I felt trapped in my relationship and job. I now realize that I had the key to open the box the whole time. And you do too.
Now, this is the part that many of us forget — you’re supposed to return with a boon. The journey doesn’t end with a pot of gold that you keep to yourself. You are supposed to come back to the ordinary world with wisdom to share that helps to make the lives of those around you better. Let’s not forget this most important step!
As my life transitions into a new ordinary, I find myself in the role of teaching women how to take care of their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I’m sharing the tools that I acquired on my journey towards healing and wholeness.
I also act as an inspiration for my children. I show them that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to living life, and we don’t need to force ourselves into a cookie-cutter version of a life that we believe we should live.
Your life doesn’t have to be rife with tragedy for it to be mythic. I’ve heard some people say, almost with regret, nothing that bad has happened to me. Similarly, I realize that my life has been one of ease compared to many. Or maybe you’ve had so much tragedy in your life that you think the cards are stacked against you. You don’t believe you can fight the dragon. What makes your life mythic is not the amount of tragedy you face. It’s your ability to meet your challenges head-on (and we all have challenges), learn from your mistakes, trust your instincts, and evolve into someone who knows you have all the inner resources you need to conquer your dragons.
Your Hero’s Journey
Take some time to consider your hero’s journey.
- When have you overcome a conflict?
- What was your ordinary life like before the conflict?
- What did you overcome? What was the treasure you received?
- How did you share it?
I wish you strength, courage, and sovereignty on your journey.
Join me in my private FB group, Goddess Wisdom for Modern Women, to continue the conversation.